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PH Opinion

PH Opinion


Views and comment from Westminster

Mark Pritchard: Govt's action on circus animals is meaningless

Writing exclusively for PoliticsHome, Conservative MP Mark Pritchard says the Government's plans to introduce a licensing scheme for wild circus animals are 'meaningless'.

Without a timetable the government’s statement on 'Wild Animals in Circuses' is nothing new – and is meaningless.

On Thursday DEFRA published a Statement in which it announced it would start a public consultation on introducing a “robust” licensing regime to regulate the continuing exploitation of the use of wild animals in circuses. Closer examination of both the Statement, and some well-placed newspaper headlines, reveals a failed attempt to try and hoodwink, both Parliament - and the public.

Notwithstanding the inaccuarte ‘Ban to Be Introduced’ headlines, and as one newspaper incorrectly declared that a ban would be introduced by 2015, it is clear that the government’s Statement makes no reference to any timetable whatsoever. Indeed, Ministers have consistently and vigorously fought any mention of timetables. So nothing has actually changed.

That is why, without a timetable the government’s Statement is meaningless and is a clumsy attempt to kick a ban on the use of wild animals into the political long-grass whilst at the same time attempting to grab short-term positive headlines. Amidst these political machinations, circus animals continue to suffer.

Indeed, evidence suggests, that licensing will do very little to help the plight of travelling circus animals, most of whom continue to endure gruelling itinerant lives, herded around the country, in cruel and cramped conditions, carted around like commodities, rather than beautiful, living, and sentient beings.

A licensing regime will also be costly and difficult to enforce. It will give a green light to unscrupulous circus owners to start to import a new generation of wild animals. That is why a licensing regime will add, rather than alleviate suffering. The absence of a ban once again confirms the government’s growing reputation as one of the least animal welfare friendly governments in the modern political era. Something that will have electoral consequences.

Fast-forward to 2015. It is not beyond the realm of reasonable probability or past Whitehall experience, to expect a future government announcement that proudly declares: “that the new licensing system is working well - and that there is now no need for an outright ban”. That is why all who care about the welfare of animals and the supremacy of Parliament should resist attempts to treat the public and MPs as fools.

Last June, the House of Commons unanimously supported my motion to ‘Ban the Use of Wild Animals in Circuses by July 2012’.The overwhelming support for this motion, still reflects the unanimous view of the British people, mirrors circus bans being implemented across the planet, in countries as far apart as Singapore, Greece, and Colombia, and would regularise and update animal welfare legislation that belongs to the Victorian era.

The time for a ban - is now. The government need to be straight with Parliament and the British public. But it is clear, without a timetable - there will be no ban.

By deploying under-hand smoke and mirrors tactics, the government is damaging its own credibility and is guilty of a breach of trust. It is also choosing to ride roughshod over the will of Parliament and the British people. Old politics is back.

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